Thursday, February 03, 2011

The age of stupid

Once upon a time, somewhere around the bronze age, I started reading fantasy novels by female writers. I read works by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Tanith Lee, Barbara Hambly, Ursula K. le Guin and so many more fantastic and funny writers. I have been collecting books for more than 20 years, and now that I am moving there is a stack of crates in Norway, waiting to come with me.

I am still reading new fantasy, adding to the success of Amazon's Kindle day by day, as I can't resist. It is however starting to get really hard to get the fix I want. Why? The heroines have, for some reason, grown incredibly stupid! See for instance Rachel Vincent's shifters series. Young werecat girl runs away from overprotective daddy (and his powerful clan) to have a life. Girl gets in trouble. Much fantastic fighting, shapeshifting and romance follows. Now, this looks like just my thing, I am hooked on "world almost falls apart and then just gets saved because people are decent somehow and the good guys always gets out on top." Please hold the social realism, if I wanted to feel bad I'll read the papers.

However, Rachel Vincent's heroine has one terminal flaw. She's stupid. Her stupidity is what drives the whole thing forwards. She's self-centered, short-tempered, spoiled and obviously has a severe learning disability, as she keeps doing the same stupid things through six books. And no, I didn't read them all. After the first few, I decided it was enough, and for the last ones I just read the increasingly annoyed reviews.

In Bradley's books from Darkover, women faced a harsh society, fought and managed to scrape out some room for themselves somehow. They weren't perfect, luckily, but they were also not murderously stupid. They had a lot more going for them than looks and the ability to turn into a cat, really.

To a certain degree stupidity is an equal opportunity problem. In J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books, the main character is the king of the vampires, a king who doesn't really want to take on his duties, but has now reluctantly agreed not to keep being only a warrior, but to get on with being a king as well. We have sexy men, beautiful women, dead and undead, fast cars, loyalty and spectacular fights between good and evil. Our vampires are good, by the way. Anyway: So far so good, and I guess if I am able to accept that there are vampires and other versions of undead, being annoyed about the king being plain stupid - well, I should be able to suspend my disbelief a bit more, shouldn't I?

The problem is: I just can't. I not only want the world to be saved, I want it saved in a clever manner! So when the king, rather than meeting with his council, discussing and getting updated on vampire politics (neglected for so many years), goes in a three week vacation with this sexy wife, I really don't feel he has any right to be angry when his soldiers do something stupid and get themselves and their friends hurt. He is ignoring exactly the duties he claimed he'd take on, he's super intelligent, has enourmous resources and a divine connection, and all he does is use it to get laid and spar with his sister, when he doesn't threaten to kill his own men. Still, he looks great, and he has powers. What more does a vampire king need to worry about (except daylight)?

Luckily, not every hero/ine is like that. Some are - if not brilliant - at least likeable. Diana Pharaoh Francis has started a series about the Horngate Witches, where the main character is a magically enhanced warrior with authority issues and a very strong sense of justice and honour. No, not brilliant at all, she doesn't fill others in on what she's doing until it's almost too late, and she is dangerously horny - which causes the dialogue to be... less than good. Waaaay too much heavy-handed innuendo, really. However: she has worked for her skills, she has taken responsibility and learned her job when she realised she was stuck with it and good at it, and she can put her own personal issues aside for the greater good. Also, she loves somebody other than herself, and isn't fully given over to instant gratification.

Anyway, to my point: Is stupid and selfish the new plot move/way to hammer female dependency in with otherwise strong girls? It does explain why the heroine ends up in one emergency after the other. Storm out of the room in anger = get kidnapped. Leave your boyfriend rather than talk to him when you see him with another woman = get raped while you're on your own. Go away to study at the other side of the country = get your friends killed while they try to protect you. Be rude and smart-assed when in the presence of stronger, smarter people than yourself = get beaten up and ruining all chances of a diplomatic solution.

And yes, I know, I am asking a lot from literature that depends on the main characters drinking blood or casting spells, while hanging out with fairies and angels. But still... can we please have heroes that don't constantly behave like spoiled, over-indulged teen-agers on steroids? Please?

1 comment: said...

First, you will LOVE Jo Walton's new _Among Others_.

What do you think of Richard Pullman's trilogy, "His Dark Materials"? Lyra is not entirely sympathetic, but she's no one's fool.